Monday, October 27, 2014

HGB Podcast 7 - The Villisca Axe Murder House

Moment in Oddity -Fecal Transplants

There is a deadly Superbug by the name of Clostridium difficile or C. difficile.  The infection causes cramps, fever, diarrhea and swelling of the bowel.  It kills 14,000 Americans a year and has infected up to 500,000 people.  A doctor in the UK discovered a way to treat the disease and the treatment is quite odd and a tad disgusting.  The treatment is a fecal transplant.  That's right, poo is the cure.  Stool banks like OpenBiome of Massachusetts asks healthy people to donate their stool, paying them $40 per deposit and that stool is then used to treat C. difficile. The transplant is performed via a duodenal tube, a rectal tube or colonoscopy.  The healthy stool contains beneficial gut microorganisms and it fills up the unhealthy intestines of the sick patient with healthy flora.  The C. difficile is overwhelmed.  The patient is healed.  Sending bacteria to fight bacteria makes sense, but it is rather disgusting and well, odd.

This Day in History - The Creation of Double Stranded Barb Wire

On this day in 1873, a revolutionary new form of fencing is registered with the patent office by a farmer named Joseph Glidden.  Glidden had gotten the idea for his design after seeing a similar form of fencing made by Henry RoseThe fencing was barbed wire.  Rose's version was single strand while Glidden's was double stranded and the improvement was significant.  The wire was more easily produced and resulted in 80 million tons being produced by 1880.  Glidden's wire was the most popular in the nation.  Before Glidden's barbed wire, farmers had to use expensive wood to build fences when trees were unavailable and his invention made fence building easy, cheap and durable.  Life on the plains changed drastically.  Farmers could protect their land from open range animals like cattle and cattle ranchers had to change their operations.  No longer could their cattle graze openly, but cattle drives could no longer run over unfenced land to rail depots.  In later history, barbed wire was used extensively during World War I to protect trenches and the wire is used to keep prisoners inside jails.  Joseph Glidden probably had no idea just how useful his barbed wire would eventually become.

The Villisca Axe Murder House

The subject of today's podcast is far more than just a haunted historic location.  The story of this old white
frame house in a field in Villisca, Iowa is at the heart of an unsolved true crime that is tragic in every sense of the word.  An entire family, along with two other children, lost their lives in one evening.  We invite you to take a trip with us, back to 1912, back to a small flourishing rural Iowa town.

The town of Villisca is in Montgomery County in Iowa.  Today, the city has few residents, but Villisca was a town with a bustling train depot in the early 1900s.  D.N. Smith had planned a rail line for the Burlington and Missouri Railraod in 1859 that lead to the creation of the town.  The Civil War slowed down the building of the railway, but when it was finally built, the depot made the city a center for business and shops began to line the main street.   In 1912, Villisca had the only publicly funded armory in the state of Iowa lending to a rich military history up through the World Wars.  The name Villisca means "Pleasant Place" and it was a nice small town where neighbors all knew each other and Sunday socials were important events.  Some claim that the town was actually named for the Native American term "Wallisca," which means "evil place," and after hearing the tale that has made Villisca famous, listeners might agree that Wallisca fits better.

Josiah B. Moore and Sarah Montgomery were married on December 6th 1899 at the home of Sarah's parents.  Josiah had lived in Villisca for several years and he and Sarah settled there.  They were well known, well liked and affluent members of the city and Sarah was very involved with the Presbyterian Church there.  They lived on their farm with their four children: eleven year old Herman Montgomery, ten year old Mary Katherine, seven year old Arthur Boyd and five year old Paul Vernon.

On the morning of June 9th, Josiah Moore phoned the home of Joseph and Sara Stillinger to inquire if their daughters, Lena and Ina, could come to stay the night that evening at the request of his daughter Katherine.  The Stillinger girls left for church that morning and met up with the Moore family at the annual Children's Day Program at the Presbyterian Church.  The Stillinger girls and the Moore children all participated in the program that was directed by Sarah Moore and we imagine that everyone had a grand time.  We envision the Moore family at home sharing tales of the day's events and laughing heartily as they set up an area for the Stillinger girls to sleep that evening when they returned a little before 10pm.  No one had a clue what evil was lurking near or in the home.  By morning, the entire Moore family and the two Stillinger girls would be dead in a crime that would horrify the nation.

Mary Peckman was a good neighbor.  Like every good neighbor, she watched over the Moore family.  We've had our neighbor across the street come over and let us know that we had left our garage door up one evening.  Good neighbors do that.  Mary was gathering up her laundry when she noticed how still the Moore home was and she could see that no one was working on the chores for the day like milking the cows.  She approached the door and knocked.  No one answered.  She tried to open the door, but found it locked.  She returned home and telephoned Josiah's brother Ross who hurried to the homestead.

 Ross Moore glanced through a window and knocked on the door.  He fumbled with his keys and found the one that fit the lock of his brother's door.  He opened the door to the downstairs bedroom and immediately returned to the porch, greatly troubled by the brief vision he had of the room.  There were two small bodies in the bed and dark blood was soaked into everything.  Mrs. Peckman called the sheriff and City Marshall Hank Horton was first on the scene.  He had been the primary peace officer for the town for only a year.  He found everyone dead where they slept, all having suffered multiple blows to the head.  Dark material covered the mirror in the room where the Stillinger girls slept and an axe rested against a wall.  The family's doctor was called to the scene as well as the county coroner.  While trying to identify the two girls in the downstairs bedroom, they determined that one of the Stillinger girls appeared to have been molested.  Identification was impossible because of the damage to the skulls, but a nearby Bible revealed the girls' identity.

It was determined that the axe that was found in the house was the murder weapon and based on marks made by the sharp end of the axe on the ceiling in several places, it was hypothesized that the dull side of the axe was the weapon.  As detailed in the book, "On the Road to Villisca: The Hunt for the Midwest Axeman" by Hank Brewster, axe murders during these years in America's history were not entirely unusual.  A family of four was murdered in Portland, Oregon, the Coble couple was murdered in Washington state and six were murdered in Colorado Springs to name a few.  And who can forget Lizzie Borden who was acquitted in 1892 of the axe murder of her parents?

Solving crimes at this time was tough, especially in a small town where police had no real experience with processing crime scenes.  There was no DNA analysis until recent history and fingerprint evidence was just getting its start.  It was possible that nearly 100 people tramped through the murder scene, many just curious townspeople.  The main evidence left behind was a slab of raw bacon wrapped in cloth near the axe, food was prepared and left uneaten on the kitchen table along with a bowl of bloody water, the killer had wiped his hands on several items and a heel mark was left on a magazine.  The police were perplexed as to how one killer could have dispatched the entire family without waking anyone.  The victims all had coverings placed over their heads after they were killed, so it was surmised that the killer knew his victims.

Several people became suspects in the crime, though no one would ever pay for the murders.  Frank Jones had once been Josiah's employer.  The two men had parted ways on bad terms after nine years and when Josiah opened up a rival company, taking business from Jones, the bitter rivalry grew.  Jones had money, enough to hire someone to do some killing for him and that lead to a second suspect: William Mansfield, an alleged serial killer.  Two years after the Villisca murders, Mansfield killed his wife, infant child, father-in law and mother in law in Blue Island, Illinois with an axe and before the Villisca murders he is believed to have committed the Axe Murders in Paola, Kansas and the murders of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Aurora, Colorado.  (Reminds me of the Hammer Man killings in Aurora when I was a child living in Aurora in the 80s.)  Mansfield was arrested, but later let off when employment records gave him an alibi.

Reverend George Kelly was also considered a suspect.  The good reverend was a traveling preacher who was in town for the Presbyterian Church's Children Day and left quickly the following morning.  When he was brought in, he confessed to the crime after coercion and the confession was thrown out before he was tried.  An initial trial ended with a hung jury and he was acquitted during the second trial.

Another serial killer was suspected of being at work.  Earlier, we mentioned the book about the Midwest Axeman.  Henry Lee Moore was believed to be that man and he was convicted of the murders of his mother and grandmother after the Villisca murders occurred.  They were killed like the Moore family.  Henry Lee Moore is a study all to himself and an infamous killer.

Andy Sawyer was a drifter and he claimed that he passed through Villisca at the same time the murders occurred.  He was never arrested because a sheriff in a nearby town had arrested Sawyer for vagrancy the night of the murders.

So who murdered the family?  We will never know and perhaps that is why the Moore home is believed to be one of the most haunted locations in America.  The home has gone through eight owners since the Moores were murdered.  Darwin and Martha Linn bought the home finally in 1994 and restored it to the way it had been when the Moore family lived there.  The home is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours and overnight paranormal investigations. Tours and overnights have yielded claims of unexplained occurrences from children's disembodied voices to objects falling over to oil lamps blowing out to people being touched.

The woman who suggested this location to us has stayed overnight in the home and she not only expressed having feelings of sadness, but she also heard scratching on the walls and something touched her husband's ear, waking him from sleep.  Their fully charged lights flickered and an interesting point she expressed to us was the absence of bugs, both outside and inside the house during the summer in Iowa.

Well known paranormal investigator Troy Taylor investigated the house in 2005 and he and his team documented the closing of a door several times when candy was offered as enticement.  They tried to debunk the movement of the door in every way and found no explanation.

The website Haunting Villisca has the following testimonial:
"On April 29, 2006 four members of PRISM (Paranormal Research & Investigative Studies Midwest) and three guest investigaters spent the night in the Villisca Axe Murder house.  The following is an account of some of their experiences.
Several times some of the team members felt their hair being tugged and one of us felt a tugging on the chain necklace he was wearing.
The team was all gathered in the parlor room downstairs and while there they heard noises from the upstairs;thuds and bumps like someone was jumping off of the bed or children rough-housing.
At about 2:45 AM, the closet door in the children's room upstairs opened and closed by itself.  There was a candy necklace hanging on the closet door handle and it would move and rattle against the door and then the door would either open or close.  This happened several times and was witnessed by the team and also was caught on film.
Also in the bedroom, the women of the team witnessed what appeared to be tiny pale fingers from the inside of the closet door.  Waving from underneath the door and touching the inside of the door.  Also witnessed was an intermittent  faint glow coming from the inside of the closet.
Throughout the night, the team recorded audio and took many digital pictures.  Some EVPs and spirit orbs and  spirit anomalies were captured.  Some of these can be viewed on
This is an experience that none of us will soon forget and all look forward to going to the house again.
Carl and Dottie Norgard"
The strange thing about the hauntings is that no one who lived in the houses prior to the Linns purchasing the house ever reported paranormal activity.  It seems to have only started after renovations were implemented.  And one has to ask the question, how much affect could all these paranormal groups going through the house have on the house?  Have they brought something with them?  Have they conjured something?  Is the Moore home in Villisca, Iowa haunted?  That is for you to decide.

For more information check out the best website on the murders:

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